Monday, October 25, 2010

The B.S. Gap in Coffee

The specialty coffee world is well stocked with coffee nerds -- including me.  Unfortunately, precious few of us seem to have majored in the hard sciences at school (this also includes me), and the result is a startling dearth of scientific knowledge amongst coffee's best and brightest.

This doesn't stop us yakking.  In fact, an amusingly high percentage of coffee professionals seem to have permanently locked lips with the Blarney Stone.  Though the last burst of hard research on coffee was in the 80's, we suggest scientific reasons for much of what we do (or don't do).  I hear science invoked in vac pot discussions, pour over disputes, and espresso machine showdowns.  On this blog, I do my part with my ongoing speculations on the French press and the Coffee Catcher. 

So is it bad that we propose seemingly reasonable theories without the hard research to back them up?  I don't think so.  I love the creative dialog that emerges from asking questions and suggesting possible answers.  I think the give-and-take itself helps us to weed out crackpot theories and identify the good ones.  I think we depend on our palates to move the process forward where we can't explain the science coherently yet.

All this talk is much better than nothing, but there's a limit to how much we'll learn without some new coffee chemistry research.  In 30 years of innovation, I think we've accumulated a gigantic scientific deficit of questions, and I think it's costing us a thorough understanding of what we do right now, and how we could improve coffee in the future.

Don't get me wrong, I love shooting the breeze with my coffee buddies, but at the end of the day, I want some answers. I want to understand more about how different brewing and processing methods affect what's in my cup.  This isn't rocket science.  The answers are out there, yet I can't find anyone who is working on finding them!

So here's a challenge: let's get some of the BS out of coffee -- by bringing in a few B.S. degrees.

Credit for inspiring this post goes to Andrew Daday of Stumptown Coffee.


  1. Check out the Global Coffee Research Initiative that is going down this week at Texas A&M. Pretty much what you're looking for..

  2. Thanks brewtasterepeat. Good to see the GCRI and Norman Borlaug Institute addressing these issues at origin. I do think there's room for a similar initiative addressing roasting processes and brewing processes.